TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Ignore, for a moment, the final score and consider that No. 13 Florida State on Monday played a team that has two professional-quality guards, that won its conference’s regular-season title a year ago and that narrowly missed out on the NCAA tournament.
Then consider that the Seminoles trailed midway through the first half and led by as few as six points in the second.
Factor in all of things, then look at the final score – Florida State 93, Canisius 61 – and it might not be too much of stretch to call this the most impressive win of FSU’s young season.
And yes, that includes the Seminoles’ throttling of Florida two weeks ago.
“The score was not an accurate representation of how hard that game was for us,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “This is the hardest, toughest 30-point victory I’ve ever been a part of.”
Indeed, FSU (3-0) on Monday played its first game in eight days and, at least in the early goings, it showed.
Saddled with some sloppiness on offense, the Seminoles made just five of their first 14 field-goal attempts and trailed, 12-10, six minutes into the game.
That’s when Mfiondu Kabengele made his first of several impacts.
After grabbing a defensive rebound, guard Trent Forrest dished a long pass to the 6-10 Kabengele, who then threw down a thunderous dunk that brought the Tucker Center to its feet and sent an overmatched Canisius defender flying to the floor.
Kabengele drew a foul and made his free throw for the first points of a 14-3 FSU run that put the Seminoles up by double digits.
“Plays like that just always bring energy to the team,” said Kabengele, who came off the bench to score a career-high 18 points.
“It was awesome,” Forrest said. “I mean, we know what type of player ‘Fi’ is …When he’s running, he gets behind the defense and he finishes plays really well.”
The Seminoles took a 15-point lead into halftime and appeared to be cruising toward an easy win.
But the Golden Griffins (1-2) outscored FSU 14-4 to start the second half, cutting the Seminoles’ lead to just six after a turnover.
“I feel like was definitely a good test for us,” Forrest said. “The pace they were playing at, it was tearing at us, honestly. You get tired real quick.”
In need of another spark, the Seminoles turned again to Kabengele.
He stemmed the tide with another dunk, followed with another three-point play at the basket then put back an offensive rebound. All in the span of about 58 seconds.
It was all part of an 11-0 FSU run and, by the time it had finished, the Seminoles led by 15 and never looked back.
“‘Fi’ is a monster,’” said sophomore guard M.J. Walker, who chipped in 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting. “Those plays like that … his potential is amazing.”
As usual, Hamilton used his full bench – 11 players in total – as the Seminoles pulled away.
Every Seminole that checked into the game scored at least four points, and FSU finished with a 51-11 advantage in bench points.
“That’s a lot in anybody’s book,” Hamilton said.
“The guys who came in the game for them appeared to be jumping on a train that was already moving,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “Whoosh – full-speed intensity.”
Canisius’ Malik Johnson led all scorers with 20 points on the strength of a 5 of 6 effort from the 3-point line.
The Seminoles, however, finished with healthy advantages in shooting percentage (53-42), free-throw attempts (30-15), rebounds (40-15) and points in the paint (44-20).
They’ll face an upgrade in competition later this week, when they meet UAB at the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando.
Depending on how the tournament shakes out, the Seminoles could meet LSU, Oklahoma State, Memphis or defending national champion Villanova.
“These early games that are challenging like this, I think it’s going to serve us well as we prepare for the ACC,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got to be ready to play.”